The U.S. needs a strong moral narrative to combat Putin

Ignoring the ideological and moral aspects of this confrontation undermines support for any robust Western policy — both within the United States, which is preoccupied with domestic problems, and among our European and Asian allies. Meanwhile, Putin’s xenophobia strikes a responsive chord with Western right-wing groups.

Furthermore, our failure to address the moral pitfalls of Russia’s foreign policy helps Putin retain strong support within his borders. The irony here is palpable. During the Cold War, despite Moscow’s efforts to jam Western broadcasts, we were able to explain to the people of the U.S.S.R. that Soviet policies were illegitimate. Now, despite ample opportunities to communicate with the Russian people, we fall conspicuously short.

The United States must lead in articulating a new Western strategy, beginning with a presidential speech that explains why, after decades of efforts to integrate Russia into Western institutions, Putin’s regime must be treated as an adversary. Debunking Putin’s pseudohistorical claims and reminding people that the Soviet Union was a “prison of nations” and that numerous Central and Eastern European countries have joined NATO and the European Union precisely to maintain their independence from Moscow should be at the core of this speech. It should also expose the moral pathologies of Putin’s government, including its authoritarianism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.